How I Overcame Social Anxiety by Acting As If
People who know me describe me as friendly, and it's funny for me to hear because I wasn't always -- I had social anxiety. Connecting with others is at the core of who I am as a person, but social anxiety held me back from belonging for the first two decades of my life.
I transformed from a shy and quiet child into a friendly and open adult by changing the way I thought about relationships and interacted with others. I have many close friends who I feel I can trust, and I'm taken aback sometimes when I think about the wealth of meaningful relationships I have built after overcoming my social anxiety by choosing to step toward rather than away from connection.
Childhood Social Anxiety Presented Challenges
I went through eighth grade with the friends my mom helped me make in kindergarten. When I left those friends for a high school where I didn't know anyone, I was so terrified and overwhelmed that I isolated myself. I would walk into a room and size myself up against everyone else, almost always deciding I wasn't good enough to approach anyone. My severe anxiety and low self-esteem told me that I wasn't good enough for anyone to want to befriend.
I worried about what I would say and what the other kids would think of me. I buried my head into books to escape and close myself off, and it took me months before I stopped hiding in a remote corner of the school eating lunch alone. I ended high school with a small group of good friends, but I missed out on getting to know so many people who I wanted to know better.
Shifting Perception and Acting As If Enriched My Social Life
When I went away to college, my mom gave me some advice that began to change the way I see connection: "Everyone is in the same position, not knowing anyone and trying to make friends. People want to like you."
This advice helped change my perspective, and I discuss more about how the shift in perception empowered me to be more social in the video below. I started acting as if I had the confidence I wished I had and mustered up the courage to take a risk beyond my comfort zone.
"Acting as if" is actually a technique therapists suggest to clients to help them change their behavior.1 I decided to put my authentic self out there confidently, even though I didn't feel confident, and I couldn't believe people liked me. They were happy to talk to me.
The more my risks paid off, the more I felt encouraged to take more. If I liked someone's outfit, I told them. I smiled and started conversations instead of avoiding eye contact out of fear. If I missed someone I hadn't seen in a while, I sent them a text to say hi. I decided I had little to lose by trying but so much to gain, and the risk of missing out on the human connections that give my life meaning is worse than any rejection I could face.
Choosing Connection Proved to be Worth the Risk
The more I reached out, the more others reached back. The friendlier and more welcoming I made myself, the more I invited connection into my life. Taking the risk to go toward connection rather than back away from it has brought me so much fulfillment in life, from the little everyday moments of relating to someone in passing to the deeper friendships I have made because I gave people a chance and let them take a chance on me.
In the video below, I talk more about how my shift in perception helped me overcome my fear of rejection. Do you find yourself wanting to connect with others but fearing rejection? Try the acting as if technique and let me know how it goes in the comments. I'll be here to support you.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Los Angeles. "Act As If." Accessed March 28, 2021.
Sabatello, J. (2021, March 29). How I Overcame Social Anxiety by Acting As If, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, May 7 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/relationshipsandmentalillness/2021/3/how-i-overcame-social-anxiety-by-acting-as-if